MARQUETTE - Loriann Coffey looked over to her left and gave some advice to her friend, Becky Davis.
"See... you do what she tells you to do and you'll be all right," Coffey gently said.
The "she" Coffey was referring to is Sally Menapace, program director for Marquette Adult Day Services. Menapace was helping Davis, Coffey and other seniors with an art project on a blustery winter Monday morning.
It was warm, in more ways than one, in the room where the women were working. For nearly three decades, seniors have been welcomed by the day services staff three days a week, allowing them a chance to socialize with their peers, to work on projects, to have lunch and to play games.
The program also offers their caregivers a bit of respite.
Housed within First Presbyterian Church in Marquette, the program was the brainchild of Miriam Hilton, a longtime community activist.
"I have been the director since September, but immediately I came to love the folks that come in, the great staff and the wonderful board," said Melissa Luttrell, executive director. "This is a lot of fun. I have to admit I was nervous at first, working with an older population which is something I hadn't done before. But they are just a joy."
Luttrell said it has been easy to feel comfortable in her job.
"You get to know them and their stories," she said. "A lot of them ride in on the Marq-Tran bus and they enjoy that, too. It's neat to watch friendships form."
She's enjoyed getting to know the people who bring the seniors in as well.
"When some first discover the program, they are relieved there's a safe place to bring their loved ones," Luttrell said. "We encourage caregivers to stay as long as they want, to see what they do. One gentleman stayed the whole time the first three days, until he was comfortable going out and doing his errands while his loved one was here.
"Others are excited and relieved on the first day," she said. "I wonder why more people don't take advantage of this program, although we are near capacity now. We welcome seniors from Marquette, Ishpeming, Gwinn, Negaunee... People end up being totally impressed with the staff here, that the seniors are doing something the whole time they are here."
Luttrell said the staff goes "above and beyond."
"A lot of them do things at home to get ready for the next day here," she said. "That's how much they love it."
Sally Menapace is a member of the staff who indeed loves her work in the program.
"I have been here eight years and for me, I enjoy the interaction with the seniors," Menapace said. "I only have one aunt left and this gives me a chance to interact with that generation. It's so rewarding. I feel like I would want someone to do this for me when I get older.
"This program gives seniors a social interaction. Some of them transplanted to this area to live with their children," Menapace said. "They left behind their homes, their friends and all that they knew. This engages them in life and it gives them a sense of purpose. They can bring something home and say, 'Look what I did today.'"
That sense of purpose includes doing work to help area nonprofit agencies. For instance, the senior participants in the Marquette Adult Day Services help the St. Vincent de Paul Society get ready for its bag-and-tag sales.
"We have a new project with hospice," Menapace said. "We are making prayer shawls for them and it's something the seniors enjoy immensely."
The response from the seniors, including those who are beginning to experience dementia, has been positive, Menapace said, while caregivers are quite enthusiastic.
"What is very rewarding is the response we get from caregivers. Because of the program, they get a time-out period. They get some uninterrupted time to go to a doctor's appointment or get a haircut or just sleep. They can relax because they don't have to worry about their loved ones while they are here."
For more information on the program, visit marquetteadultdayservices.com or call 226-2142.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.